BR. DAVID DARST CENTER, FOR JUSTICE & PEACE SPIRITUALITY & EDUCATION

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Background on Brother David Darst

 

David Darst, a Christian Brother and a teacher at Bishop Rummel High School in Omaha, was challenged by his students to recognize the momentous civil and social events that were transforming US society in the 1960s. He became a peace activist and author on social and political justice. He died in an auto crash near Auburn, Nebraska in 1969 at the age of 27. The Darst Center is dedicated not only to his memory, but to adopt his process of personal transformation, to know the world through the eyes of young people and the gospel.

 

Brother David Darst's Family History

 

James McGinnis (Brother David) Darst was born late on Dec. 6, 1941. The next afternoon David's father, Guy, Jr. arrived in the hospital to say goodbye to his wife in his army uniform as the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and he had been called to duty. They didn't see one another for another 6 months. McGinnis was Jim's mother's maiden name. Jim's oldest brother, Guy, was born in 1940. Jim has three other brothers, David Martin (b. 1947), Charles Lee (b. 1949), and Daniel Stephen (b. 1951). Jim's parents lived in Spartanville, SC until Jim's father's Reserve Unit was called up in Spring, 1941. Mrs. Darst followed her husband from camp to camp in Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas. Guy, Jr. went overseas in the fall of 1944. His troopship was torpedoed in the English Channel but all got off board safely. All the officers in Jim's father's unit were white but all the enlisted men were black.

 

The children grew up in an atmosphere free from hate and intolerance, even though their parents didn't challenge the Jim Crow laws of that time. In the late 1950s during the turmoil of desegregation in the South, Grandmother McGinnis expressed disdain for all those who wanted to maintain blacks in permanent inferiority: After all "Their souls were white" - in spite of the fact that she would not pray to St. Martin DePorres because he was black! In terms of Jim's history, it is interesting to note that his father was not the only one who served in the military during WWII, but that all his aunts and uncles but one also served.

 

Jim was a perpetual motion kid. His mother always said he was "born with a hammer in his hand." When Jim's father returned from the war they lived in St. Charles from 1946 to 1952. His father became vice-president of the Benedict Coal Corporation owned by Grandfather Darst in St. Charles. In kindergarten, 1946, Jim was viewed as a cut-up until an observant teacher had his hearing tested. The teacher put him in the front row and he stopped being a cut-up: He could hear what was going on.

 

Both McGinnis and Darst families were solid middle class families. There was no Catholic Church nearby when they lived in St. Charles, so they went to Sunday Mass about half the time in Appalachia, Va., or Harlan, Ky., 25 or more miles away over a mountain or two and over an hour's drive. When they didn't attend Mass, Mrs. Darst would insist on having a prayer service. She insisted on having her sons get a Catholic education, so when there were no Catholic schools where they lived, they would go to live with their grandparents in Memphis and attend school there or when they moved to Harland, Ky., both Jim and Guy attended the Catholic school in Cumberland, Ky., 20 miles away. In 1956 Jim moved to Memphis to live with his grandparents while attending Christian Brothers High School.

 

Guy Darst, Jim's older brother reports that there existed some rivalry between them since they were so different. Guy was the studious one intent on getting good grades while Jim was the popular one, the outgoing one, the athlete, and the teenage entrepreneur. The girls were crazy about Jim but he didn't seem to notice. Guy reports that Jim went to the prom at CBC and that it may have been his first date.

 

Jim entered the Novitiate of the Christian Brothers at Glencoe, MO., outside of St. Louis on June 16, 1959. He took the religious habit and received his religious name, Brother David, on August 30, 1959. He attended St Mary's University for his Bachelor's degree and was assigned to St. Joseph HS, Westchester, IL. in the 1963-64 school year David was transferred to Archbishop Rummel High School in Omaha and taught there from 1964 to 1966. The school first opened in 1964 and David taught religion to the freshman class. Two other Brothers lived in community with him, Brother William Rohdy and Brother Timothy McNary who was the principal. While teaching his religion classes Brother David began to focus in on the morality of the Vietnam War spurred on by his discussion with his students in his classes. Through reading and communicating with others about the morality of the war, he gradually became convinced that he had to do more than read, discuss, and write about it.

 

As is indicated on the letter sent to the communities of the Brothers at the time of David's death, David was assigned to three other communities and spent only a year in each after living and working at Rummel for two years. These were DeLaSalle HS, Kansas City, MO, Providence HS and the C.B. House of Studies, both in St. Louis, MO.

 

It was probably in 1966 or 1967 that he sent his draft card back to the local draft board in Harlin, KT. In December, 1967 he was visited by an FBI agent about this action. The following June 6 while teaching at Providence HS and living at the CB House of Studies, he was arrested by two FBI agents for unspecified charges against the Selective Service System.

 

The prior May, 1968, David had participated in the Catonsville Nine action where in nine peace activists entered the draft offices in Cantonsville, a suburb of Baltimore, and demanded the draft records from the frightened employees and then took the records out of the building and burned them with a "nepalm-like" substance. Brother David wrote about why he took part in the action in his "Some Thoughts on Drastic and Public Civil Disobedience from the Baltimore County Jail." There is also a play entitled The Catonsville Nine which uses the court proceedings as the dialogue in the play. The nine participants were convicted of burning draft records at Cantonsville on October 10, 1968. Before he could serve his prison term, Brother David was killed in an auto accident on October 30, 1969 in the 28th year of his life and in his 10th year as a Christian Brother.

 

Brother David Darst was a prophet. He was probably the first religious Brother in the United States to oppose an unjust war by an act of civil disobedience. Since then, many religious have been arrested for civil disobedience because of U.S. militarism. During the 1960s, both the Catholic Church and religious congregations were appalled by priests, sisters, and brothers being arrested for civil disobedience.

copyright 2007 Br. David Darst Center. All rights reserved.